System outages at the U.S. or Canada Customs are unavoidable and can happen when you least expect it. It doesn’t matter how well managed government systems are, planned or unplanned outages are normal. But when critical systems become unavailable, even for a few minutes, the impact on end users can be significant. Without redundancies in place, businesses could lose a huge amount of money.
The good news is; government systems plan around these events. When the main system or online portal is unavailable, clients may use alternative methods to communicate with agencies. Both U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) and Canada Border Services Agency (CSBA) recommend that trade participants also develop their own contingency plans to ensure data transmission, amendment and verification when primary systems are down.
System Outages at the U.S. or Canada Customs: U.S. CBP Downtime Procedures
CBP and other related agencies maintain systems like the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) that is critical to commerce and the operation of private enterprises. CBP understands the impact of planned and unplanned downtimes to the bottom line, as well as risks to CBP and its partners. The agency has developed a contingency plan to mitigate these risks, ensure enforcement, security and compliance, and facilitate the movement of cargo as much as possible despite outages.
During downtime, filers must use a downtime request document and all available additional documents for cargo clearance. Downtime request documents may be used for single or multiple shipments. The document must include all relevant cargo information and type of release.
Requests for clearance and movement will be considered for cargo release/entry processing of all types including warehouse entries, In-bond movements, Permits to Transfer (PTT) including transfers for exam FTZ Admissions, and other releases and movement requests as identified to ports.
When information is limited, CBP may require paper documentation including CBP Forms 3499, 7512 or 3461/7501 or a plain paper alternative with the same information, and will process Permits to Transfer manually in order to move cargo when ACE manifest systems are down.
Filers may use CBP forms or their own form that contains the following data elements:
Name of the requestor
Port the request is being made to
Identifying information, including:
Conveyance identifying information (flight number, vessel name, train or trip number)
Bill of lading, shipment ID number or AWB number
Entry number, in-bond number, FTZ admission ID
Bonded carrier ID number, FIRMS code
Shipment level information, including:
Shipper, consignee, importer, etc.
Description of merchandise
Value as appropriate
Carriers should expect additional physical inspection as well as document review when automated systems are unavailable. If alternate systems are also down or for additional verification, ports will require entry documents to determine risk and admissibility. However, for downtimes due to broker system outage, the broker should provide a downtime letter covering the entry and relevant entry documentation if immediate clearance is needed.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Downtime Procedures
During an outage, full paper documentation like paper Cargo Control Documents (CCDs) and paper release requests must be presented to Customs. Other Government Departments (OGDs) requirements must also be met before the cargo can be released. Filers must submit two copies of the complete paper documentation required before receiving their authorization to move or release. CBSA will stamp both copies, return one copy to the filer and retain one copy for validation after the outage.
At the port of arrival or release, the border officer will stamp each copy of the documentation. For in-bond shipments, the border officer will stamp the reverse side of the CCD. The stamped copy of the carrier documents serves as proof of report that the eManifest requirement has been satisfied, the carrier can deliver the goods, and the responsibility is now with the customs broker or importer to provide interim release data. Note that additional documents may be required at the border and the shipment may be referred to secondary inspection.
After the outage, filers must submit all trade documents electronically. For scheduled outages, filers must transmit data at least 120 minutes before the start of the outage. Filers who are unable or have opted not to transmit ACI via an alternative transmission method will transmit the ACI information within 24 hours once the system is restored. This includes eManifests and house bills, which will be reported using the actual date and time of release.
Once the system is restored, a buffer time of 2 hours will be provided before the CBSA resumes normal activities. No monetary penalties will be issued to filers for ACI-related infractions that occur during a scheduled or an unscheduled outage and for the two hours following system resumption. After the outage and once the EDI documentation has been processed, filers will receive the usual electronic message or release notification.
Filers must retain all stamped paper documents presented during the outage as proof that all goods have been reported by the carrier and released or moved in-bond. Documentation should be maintained for record-keeping and audit purposes.
Filer Downtime Procedures
There are two primary methods of data exchange between government automated systems and trade participants: web portal and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Online submission portals like the ACI eManifest Portal and ACE Portal were originally developed to help small to midsize businesses transition to electronic processing and improve compliance. While free to use, web portals are not designed for high-volume or bulk filing, but carriers may use them as a backup when EDI is down.
EDI is the main data transmission method for most businesses. EDI is a direct system-to-system connection that supports different messaging standards. Both ACE and ACI utilize EDI connectivity to receive and process e-declarations, including eManifests, security filings, entries, entry summaries, and PGA/OGD declarations.
It is highly recommended for businesses to have at least two methods of data transmission in case of system outages. A Portal account is easy to set up and free to use for your staff, although it may take a few weeks to complete the registration process. Establishing an EDI connection in-house can be complex, however. It’s expensive and require investments in IT, personnel, and training. You also need CBP or CBSA to verify the integrity of the EDI connection. This could take weeks or months.
Instead of building your own EDI connection, working with a service provider is cheaper and supports redundancy efforts and contingency plans. When web portals and even ACE/ACI is down for whatever reason, a trusted partner ensures that all shipments are reported to Customs and requirements are met.
System Outages at US/CA Customs: How GeTS Can Help
Global eTrade Services (GeTS) offers multimodal e-declaration services for North America and direct connectivity with CBP and CBSA via highly secure EDI transmission. We process thousands of eManifests and other e-declarations each month for satisfied clients. All GeTS services come with 24/7 expert assistance on customs compliance matters.
Clients may choose from the self-filing option, advanced integration, or managed services. Self-filing is ideal for SMEs, and our web services can be subscribed on the fly. Advanced integration is an alternative for enterprises that want seamless connectivity and data transmission. With managed services, we take care of electronic preparation and filing. Simply fax or email the documents to us and we will do the rest.
Learn more by visiting our page on solutions for system outages at US/CA Customs or contact us today!
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